BY MATTHEW HENGEVELD Is it stupid to get critical over a free mixtape? My bet is “yes.” But how could I not? It’s almost mid-March and Stalley’s Lincoln Way Nights is the only hip-hop release of 2011 semi-worth copping (yet). Top 2011 contenders Talib Kweli and Saigon both dropped duds— though I’ve heard Esoteric has a true banger on his hands. And the Net’s been buzzing about Stalley for a long ass time. Ohio-native, thick-bearded, low-end audiophile, Stalley is a college listener’s wet dream. Why is that? Because the dude claims his music is “intelligent,” but spends 45 minutes talking about the sub woofer in his dad’s Rover.
Stalley teeters as an artist. On good days he is a lyrical rapper with a voice that harkens to ‘90s greats. On bad days he spreads his vocals over bland, overly-clean beats with the verbosity of a 14-year-old boy. His bass-obsession clouds up the skills he’s tweaked and refined. While his beat preference may be a rugged bass-driven stronghold, Stalley waivers in tone and ultimately proves himself incompatible with most instrumentals. The mismatch is particularly embarrassing, like watching the Miami Heat, because the talent is there. It’s just not utilized correctly. Stalley has the voice of John Robinson (aka Lil’ Sci) coupled with the delivery of west-coaster Fashawn, with the shaken confidence of a post-Slum Village era T3. He’s broody and uncomfortable.
Rashad Thomas, a relatively unknown Ohio-based producer, took the task of producing Stalley’s Lincoln Way Nights. Producing this mixtape is a hard task for Rashad— especially when the task is making “intelligent trunk music.” Overall, he doesn’t do a horrible job. He passes his samples through a global low cut filter that sways in and out every 2-4 bars, but I wouldn’t call it a crutch or gimmicky. Singing serves as the biggest turn-off on some tracks. “Slapp” is infectious with stuttering drums, tuba loops and Stalley’s laid-back verses, but are transformed into “top 40” pop tracks with the singing— it’s not a good sound. The Pimp C-sampling “Monkey Shit” is dope with the chopped loop and James Brown-esque ‘uhs’ and grunts.
Still, none of this makes up for Stalley’s lack of personality. You’d think with a neck-beard the size of a forearm, the guy would be somewhat interesting. Stalley seems oafish with his less-fascinating-than-curling flow. Oh, and that stupid “I rap for the blue collar people, I’m like Bruce Springsteen” bullshit needs to stop. A real struggling blue-collar worker doesn’t waste his cash on Alpines. A real blue-collar worker has bills to pay. I’m not sure who Stalley thinks his audience is. His whole attitude is disenfranchising. Despite the harshness, this is a good mixtape. In the scope of 2011, it will ultimately be an afterthought. But, for now, it’s worth checking out. One day, I’m sure, Stalley will release an album worth spending money for. And if he doesn’t— the malls are always looking for people to play Santa.